Rick James

Nice tribute to Rick James in the Sunday NYT Magazine, includes this:
Rick James, b. 1948: Funk Master:

Despite an aura of heavy-lidded indolence that attached to his long, drug-addled waning from the pop charts, Rick James worked harder than most, toiled at his trade, paid lavish dues: some 16 years' worth by the time of the overnight success of ''Super Freak'' in 1981. James might be called the Pete Rose of funk; deprived of Sly Stone's or Prince's native genius, he scrapped his way to the top. Born in 1948 as James Johnson Jr. in Buffalo, he was the third of eight children raised on the wrong side of that hard-bitten town's tracks by a single mother, a Harlem nightclub dancer turned numbers runner. At 15, James joined the Naval Reserve, then went AWOL on being designated for Vietnam. In exile in Toronto, he formed the Mynah Birds, an integrated rock band that included a young Neil Young, as well as a future member of Steppenwolf. On behalf of the band, James played his one card: papa may have been a rolling stone, but his uncle was a Temptation -- specifically Melvin Franklin, the bass-voiced anchor of the legendary singing group. The Mynah Birds were signed to Motown, but Motown executives, on learning of James's dereliction of duty, insisted he ''face the music'' (literally) before beginning his career. He duly spent time in the brig, and Motown shelved the demo tapes, which remain unreleased. Then came another decade's apprenticeship; writing songs for Motown, more demos, more forgotten bands in Detroit and London and at last, in 1978, more than a decade after his first band, a breakthrough with the single ''You and I,'' from his debut album. Nor did the effort diminish with success: along with his own steady output, James was a tireless impresario who created hits for the Mary Jane Girls, Teena Marie and Eddie Murphy. In collaborations on his own records, James gave a leg up both to his elders, the Temptations and Smokey Robinson, and to some of the rappers who had yet to conquer the world. As much as for his showmanship and his lunacy, James ought to be remembered for his ambition, his fluency, his professionalism. Among his colleagues and collaborators, he is.

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This page contains a single entry by Seth A. published on December 27, 2004 3:39 PM.

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